Ore. principal replaces holiday giving tree

Monday, December 7, 2009

ASHLAND, Ore. — The principal of an elementary school in Ashland, Ore., has removed a holiday giving tree from the school after several families complained it was a religious symbol.

The Ashland Daily Tidings reported in Dec. 4 article that Bellview Elementary Principal Michelle Zundel had the 5-foot tree taken down over Thanksgiving break and replaced by two snowmen. Like the tree, the snowmen have tags suggesting gifts for needy children.

The newspaper reported that the move had upset dozens of parents who said the tree was simply a way to celebrate the season and help those in need.

Zundel told the newspaper that she removed the holiday tree out of concern for children who do not celebrate Christmas. “These children felt somehow less welcome at their own school, having that symbol so prominently displayed,” she said.

“Because we have compulsory attendance in our schools, we need to be more sensitive than the law requires,” Zundel said. “The displays promoted by a public school should be religiously neutral.”

Zundel has created new guidelines for school holiday displays, which include bans on trees, Santa Claus figures and dreidels. She's scheduled a meeting this week at the school to discuss the guidelines.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro told the Daily Tidings on Dec. 3 that the school district does not have a policy on holiday display but that she would work with school administrators in the spring to develop a district-wide policy.

“We really do need to do that,” the newspaper quoted Di Chiro as saying. “It is very difficult for principals right now because it's on a case-by-case basis that they have to make these decisions.”

First Amendment Center Online staff contributed to this report.

Tags: , , ,